With ever-growing political pressures due to violence and xenophobia towards African Americans, Latin@s, and Asian Americans, a renewed interest in anti-racism has emerged in the United States. The social sciences and humanities readily adapt to address social, political, and cultural issues around race. Much of the field of mathematics education, however, has remained steadfast in its allegedly color-blind approach to teaching content standards.
Mathematics has often been described as “beautiful” in the way in which it allows people to explain the world around them. Science, engineering, technology, and data within the social sciences all rely heavily on the use of mathematics. Even the fine and performing arts have foundations within mathematics. Given how math is deeply embedded in our racialized society, the intersection between math education and race cannot and should not be ignored.
The call to use mathematics education to empower others and to create social change is not new. Danny Martin calls into question the purpose of mathematics education. He suggests a reprioritization of mathematics knowledge toward endeavors that promote equity by serving and bettering the community.1 Eric Gutstein further suggests that mathematics education should serve as a social justice project, “integrating what he has identified as classical, critical, and community knowledge.”2 The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics infused a focus on equity within its standards of practice in the 1980’s.3
The focus of this curricular unit is twofold. The first is to consider the math classroom as a racialized space. In doing so, the unit will shed light on why math education is not race-neutral and will explain how color-blindness reinforces the oppression of students of color. The unit will examine how color-blindness within mathematics education ignores historical data and blames academic failure on students, their families, and their communities without recognizing the systemic biases that reproduce racial inequality through material stratification, deficiency framing, and reduced access to high quality instruction.
The second part of the unit will consider anti-racist teacher-centered instructional strategies that directly address inequality in math instruction. Among these strategies, the unit will consider teaching for understanding, group participation through complex instruction, culturally relevant pedagogy, and teaching mathematics for social justice. To achieve this, the unit will provide several examples of activities that approach mathematics instruction from a culturally relevant and critical lens. Then, the unit will examine a brief race-neutral Calculus lesson on integral approximation and will highlight components that reinforce systemic racism. Finally, the unit will then address what changes must be made within the sample lesson to better address issues pertaining to race in the math classroom.